Devan Cameron: “Toilet paper is more valuable than food for today’s society”

Stress management is not just a good idea during a lockdown but essential to your mental health. I make sure to go jogging as much as possible to get out of the house and stay positive. With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel […]

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Stress management is not just a good idea during a lockdown but essential to your mental health. I make sure to go jogging as much as possible to get out of the house and stay positive.

With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life.

As a part of this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, I had the pleasure to interview Devan Cameron.

Devan is a trained chef with over 15 years of experience in the hospitality industry in Canada, Italy, France, and now the Netherlands. With his restaurant forced to minimal opening hours, he used this extra time to build his online side-hustle, Braised & Deglazed.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

I grew up in Burlington, Canada, and fell in love with cooking at a young age. My first job was at age 15 where I showed up at 5 am on weekends to wash dishes and make breadsticks for the local Italian bakery.

After a few years of getting my feet wet in restaurants, I decided to take cooking more seriously. I moved to Toronto and enrolled in a 3-year hospitality management course at George Brown College. With the college, I had the opportunity to work at Michelin starred Osteria D’el Vicario in Tuscany and also attended La Scuola Internzionale di Cucina Italiana while there. After working and living there I learned about how much I didn’t know about Italian cuisine. It was an eye-opening and life-changing experience for a kid who’d never lived on his own before.

Upon returning to Canada, I worked my butt off in various kitchens in Toronto including Woodlot and Mark McEwan’s One Restaurant. It was during these 5 or so years in Toronto that I learned the fundamentals of my craft and had the pleasure to cook for celebrities such as Madonna, Drake, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Claire Danes, Gerard Butler, Gordon Ramsay, and many more.

I reached a point working in Toronto where I knew I was getting comfortable and needed to step outside of my comfort zone. I dreamed of working in Michelin restaurants in New York, Paris, London, Copenhagen, and the world’s biggest cities because they had the best food. A friend of mine told me it wasn’t too hard for Canadians to get a French working visa. I decided on Paris, got my visa, sold most of my things, and said goodbye to my friends, family, and my apartment (that took me forever to find!).

With nothing more to my name than a couple of chef knives, some clothes, and my French visa, I bought a plane ticket for Paris. I had no job, no plan, just an Airbnb booked, and a few e-mail replies from restaurants I really wanted to work for. It wasn’t until I stepped onto the plane that I started to wonder if moving to a city I’d never been to was actually a good idea.

Once landed, I ate nothing but chocolate croissants for about 3 days and checked out all the restaurants I had always dreamed to work in. I managed to land a job with the Frenchie team on the beautiful rue du nil. I had never cooked with such passionate people in my life and the ingredients were of world-class quality. I had only planned to stay for three months but the chef convinced me to stay longer and I ended up there for almost two years. Cooking in Paris shaped the way I cook today and it was one of the best experiences of my life and cooking career.

While working in Paris I met a beautiful Dutch girl and eventually moved to the Netherlands to live with her.

I found a job as a sous chef in a small restaurant in Maastricht, the Netherlands. After Covid-19 forced our restaurant to minimal opening hours, I knew I needed a backup plan. I used this extra time off from the restaurant to build an online side-hustle. And that’s how Braised & Deglazed, a food-focused online resource with recipes, guides, and how-tos was born.

Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?

Our restaurant has been forced to close at night because of the curfew and we are only allowed to do take-out. It’s been a huge adjustment to try to figure out how to keep the business going without doing what we do best, a full-service a la carte menu.

We haven’t really learned much other than the fact that not all restaurants can do take-out food effectively.

What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?

I miss my family a lot. Before COVID-19 happened my family was going to visit me but all of that was put on hold. I haven’t seen them for 2 years now, thankfully FaceTime exists!

Secondly, I miss traveling a lot. We had a lot of plans to drive around Europe and go to places I’ve never been before.

The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?

I’d like to see better working conditions for cooks. It depends on where you live but I think it’s really important for creativity and overall life satisfaction in any career. I really like the idea of the 4 day work week for cooks.

What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.

The best thing that happened to me as a chef during Covid was the extra time I was given to work on my side hustle. I learned so many new skills including food photography, WordPress, SEO, and all that’s required to run a website. I had always been planning to write down my best recipes and with this lockdown, I was finally given that opportunity.

The past 12 months of lockdown have been incredibly productive for me. Still, I can’t wait for life to return back to normal.

How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?

Jogging. It’s really been a lifesaver since the lockdown. Having the means to manage stress is crucial during these times and I couldn’t imagine what I’d be like without it. I think I would go crazy.

I used to love working out at the gym but with everything locked down, that was no longer an option. I didn’t like the idea of jogging but my girlfriend convinced me to give it a try and I ended up loving it. It’s really been a savior for me during this lockdown and most importantly, it helps me stay positive and mentally fit. If anyone reading this is thinking about giving jogging a try, just go for it. You may surprise yourself.

Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?

Being away from my family was the hardest but it’s something I mentally prepared myself for before moving across the pond. I FaceTime my family back home regularly and this helps a lot. I can’t imagine how hard my life would be if FaceTime didn’t exist.

Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Regular communication with family is key when in isolation. FaceTime is a great way to remedy the feelings of homesickness.
  2. Toilet paper is more valuable than food for today’s society. I couldn’t believe that when the lockdown first started, people hoarded toilet paper more than canned foods. I still don’t understand the logic behind that one.
  3. The lockdown was harder for some people. Introverts like my girlfriend and I didn’t really mind it as some of our extroverted friends. We’re also lucky to have each other, I couldn’t imagine what it’s like to be trapped home alone all by yourself for a year.
  4. The restaurant industry is very fragile but people still love to eat. Unfortunately, many restaurants have closed and many more might still, but the demand for restaurant-prepared food has increased. I was fortunate enough to share my cooking passion online by starting a food-focused website.
  5. Stress management is not just a good idea during a lockdown but essential to your mental health. I make sure to go jogging as much as possible to get out of the house and stay positive.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” — Wayne Gretzky.

If you want something, you’ve got to at least try. It’s easy to get discouraged and I could have easily thought that I wouldn’t be able to learn how to run a website or get into food photography or even website SEO. It’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I think lunch with Jamie Oliver would be pretty fun. He seems like a great guy and was the first chef that got me inspired to cook at a young age.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can visit Braised & Deglazed, a food-focused website with recipes, tips, and inspiration for the home cook!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

With pleasure, thanks for listening. Stay safe everyone!

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